By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — A police officer or firefighter violently attacked doing their job and as a result is permanently disabled would qualify for an enhanced benefit from the state retirement system under a bill heard by a Senate committee Wednesday.
Senate Bill 153, a Group II member of the New Hampshire Retirement System, would receive a minimum of at least $60,000 a year or two-thirds of their highest yearly earnings if they qualify.
The shooting of a then 24-year-old Manchester police officer in 2012 and his experience trying to navigate the retirement and worker’s compensation systems are the genesis for the bill.
Police Officer Dan Doherty was shot six times and since that time has undergone 19 operations and was forced to retire in 2018 from the Manchester Police Department because of his injuries.
One of the bill’s sponsors, state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, said the bill would provide a pension that is more representative of a police officer’s or firefighter’s salary.
“This is intended to help relieve the stress of a police officer or firefighter, who during their performance of duty, were violently attacked and suffered a permanent disability,” he said. “He still has bullet fragments in his body.”
“The bill would eliminate his need to fight for medical coverage and appeal denials and to avoid having to relive this violent incident,” D’Allesandro told the Senate Executive Departments and Administration Committee. “This public servant deserves our support.”
When the shooting on Manchester’s West Side occurred, Doherty had worked for the department for a little less than four years. After his recovery he returned to work but worked a full year only once and when he was forced to retire he did not have five consecutive years of annual salary to determine his benefit.
Instead, his retirement benefit under the accidental disability program was determined by his first three-and-a-half years of work, at the low end of the department’s pay scale, and the one full year and the highest of his other years.
Under the bill, someone violently attacked and permanently disabled would have his or her retirement system benefit be two-thirds of the person’s highest yearly salary.
Doherty told the committee the $60,000 minimum would be more reflective of his salary at the end of his work as a police officer than at the time of his injury.
He said the financial implication would be minimal for the retirement system as he could count on his hand the people who would qualify.
If other police officers and firefighters in the state do not have to fight the battles he has over medical coverage and compensation, it would be a victory, Doherty said.
“If someone qualifies for this retirement pension, they have been through a violent act, they have been attacked, someone has tried to kill or severely injure you,” Doherty told the committee.
“It is more rare than you think. For nine out of 10 people who suffer the injuries I did, it is fatal. Most people in my shoes are not here to talk about it.”
Marty Karlon of the NH Retirement System said there are two disability programs – one non-job related and the other the accidental disability program.
He noted the bill does not include psychological incapacity and they might want to add that to the bill to make it consistent with current law.
And Karlon said the bill as written is not retroactive, but rather prospective, indicating it would not cover Doherty as written.
Committee member state Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh, D-Manchester, asked how many police or firefighters currently on accidental disability would qualify under the bill.
Karlon said there are currently 323 police and 94 firefighters on accidental disability, but the system would have to go through those cases one by one to determine who would qualify.
Retired Manchester police officer and former head of the Manchester Patrolman’s Association and NH Police Association Kenneth Chamberlain said what happened to Doherty is not accidental, but rather than try to establish a new disability program, he is trying to add a new category of violent attack leading to permanent disability.
Doherty’s situation is unique and thankfully does not happen very often, Chamberlain said.
“We’re not here trying to game anything, we’re trying to help Dan,” Chamberlain said. “This is not going to affect a lot of people.”
The bill also had the backing of the NH Police Association.
Its president Mark Morrison said Doherty’s case shows there is a hole in the system that needs to be changed.
“The state has made a commitment to New Hampshire officers to take care of those who take care of us,” Morrison said. “We strongly encourage you to retroactively provide for Dan.”
The committee will decide on its recommendation for the bill next week.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.